The King of East Grinstead
When I opened up the folder there were only a dozen or so sheets of paper inside. Nevertheless the contents proved to be a pretty complete synopsis of what would have been the sequel to a film that, if ever there was one, really didn’t need a sequel, ending as it does in all-out atomic destruction. Maybe that was why they never made it – in the event of a real nuclear war there would very likely be no sequel… for any of us. Wasn’t that kind of the point?
I had time to make notes on the (pretty thin) skeleton of what was there, which I hastily scrawled down over the next half hour as Mandrax watched me, being (understandably) reluctant to part with the original. Care home fees were extortionate, he explained, and he hoped to sell the slender manuscript one day in order to be able to provide a nest egg for a daughter who was his one surviving relative.
I said I would do what I could to help publicise the fact.
The working title on the manuscript was:
NUCLEAR WAR – THE SEQUEL
or: The King of East Grinstead
It is approximately two years after nuclear conflict destroyed civilisation as we know it. The survivors have split into ragged bands who roam the radioactive landscape, scavenging for food and fighting the effects of the fallout, or joined up with the military, who still operate from concealed underground bases in remote coastal areas. The land that was once Britain is entirely lawless, and there are rumours of invasion from overseas.
Anti-hero of the first film, WILLY SPIERS, having accidentally midwifed nuclear armageddon, has joined up with a U-boat captain named KORZENIOWSKI and spends some time as a smuggler bringing hope to survivors in the western isles of the Outer Hebrides before his boat is sunk and the islands destroyed by a gang of soldiers lead by an amazonian woman calling herself UNA and her gang, who appear to have got their hands on some advanced weapons from somewhere-or-another.
An editor’s note scrawled at this point – by I don’t know who – pointed out “Clearly a plot-hole here?”
I went on reading:
Spiers survives the shipwreck and finally winds up finding a home of sorts at an agrarian commune in the remote far north of Scotland where normal life has continued to some degree. He lives here with the growers of enormous oversized vegetables as life proceeds at a pace that has not altered for thousands of years, tending to the crops. Here he meets VERA, a farm girl who has come here from the ruins of London, perhaps trying in vain to find her lost family. the two become lovers, and maybe for a while it seems like existence will come back to some sort of normality. ‘Maybe this is hell,’ he tells her, ‘but I’d rather be here with you than anywhere else.’
‘Yes. I suppose You’re all I have now.’
It is now the 1960s. A new drug has been invented, called LSD [L.S.D.? That’s pounds, shillings and pence, isn’t it??], and even new records are being put out [though hadly anyone has any electricity to play them, of course]. A popular group called the Betaflies, broadcasting from caverns beneath Liverpool, proclaims a new age of peace & love is starting. There are rumours of a new government of scientists and thinkers being started in the Midlands, which wasn’t that badly hit, according to radio broadcasts. But Willy Spiers has DOUBTS. Who is behind these mysterious transmissions, and who knows if they’re really on our side, eh? Tortured by paranoia and psychedelic dreams of his failure to prevent the demented General from launching nuclear armageddon (see previous film), Spiers sets off south.
The mysterious broadcast soon turns out to be a siren call leading those to their doom with the promise of peace. Even now, issuing forth from the Soviet east, wave upon wave of demented avengers lead by a crazed and hideously deformed war-lord calling himself the Steel Tsar are invading England. Spiers only realises when he spots the floozy who sank his U-boat amongst the crowd in the ruins of Birmingham, and just manages to get out in time before the Tsar’s men execute everyone, after managing to overhear the whole plan of course.
The Tsar wants to recover the remains of the last unexploded H-bomb which has landed on a small town called East Grinstead, which is now heavily fortified and radioactive, and he’s come here in person to find it. Willy arrives in town first and manages to defeat its ruler, a mutant, in hand-to-hand combat before organising the remaining ragged band of mutants who live there into a fighting force who surprise the Tsar and his men and defeat them just in time. Of course there’s a final face-off at the end between Spiers and the big bad metal-face himself, who fight on top of the atomic bomb, which finally goes off and kills everyone, destroying the town but saving the world from the clutches of the mad dictator…
I put the manuscript down. ‘It’s a bit heavy,’ I said. ‘What would have happened next, do you think? The pop group, “The Betaflies” are obviously The Beatles… And it’s always good to have a villain who’s hideosly deformed, of course. This would have been a much more fantastical film than Nuclear War, it seems obvious to me. But there’s so much more here. Enough for three or four movies, I should think.’
The sky had turned dark while I had been reading, and old Mandrax sat in the chair now watching me carefully. The clouds outside of the window were slate grey, and the trees looked bare. A wind was getting up.
‘Yes, well – Harry wanted to hold a mirror up to real life, I should imagine,’ the elderly air-force man explained. ‘For him, to have the psychedelic 60s happening in a world which had been decimated by nuclear conflict was a deeply funny concept. Don’t forget that we were all young in the London of that time. One couldn’t fail to be affected by it – here were all these young girls wearing miniskirts and taking the contraceptive pill. Some of my old buddies used to call me “Randy Mandy” because of the sleeping pills that were popular at the time, Blue Betties. They had a habit of making you rather randy, you see…’
‘We’re getting off the point,’ I said, aware that my alloted visiting hour was almost over, hoping to avoid the conversation drifting over into nostalgia for the codger’s sex life, anxious to gain any more tid-bits that I could before the old airman’s own lease on life finally expired. ‘What do you think were Harry’s reasons for wanting to make a sequel to Nuclear War?’
‘Hmm, well, the same reasons behind all his films, if I had to guess – I’d say to convey something instructive. In this case how appalling a world post-catastrophe would be, something which Nuclear War failed to show, pitched as it was as a comedy. Secondly: to see just how depraved he could get away with being.’
‘The man was always pushing the limits of taste and decency. Also, he was obsessed with bodily functions. Just look at how many scenes in his movies take place in bathrooms – key scenes!’